Giardiasis is a common parasitic infection that can cause diarrhea in pets, and also has the potential to affect you and your family. Learn how to protect your pet from this potentially dangerous infection by reading The Neighborhood Vet team’s answers to your frequently asked questions about giardiasis.

Question: What is giardiasis?

Answer: Giardiasis is an infection caused by Giardia duodenalis, a ubiquitous, flagellated protozoan parasite. In the trophozoite stage, Giardia attaches to intestinal epithelial cells to feed. They transform into a cyst stage, which an infected animal may pass in their feces, contaminating the surrounding environment. Giardia cysts can live for months in the environment, lurking in feces-contaminated soil, food, and water and are very difficult to eliminate. 

Q: How does a pet contract giardiasis?

A: Infection occurs when your pet ingests a Giardia cyst while drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated with infected feces. In addition, your pet can contract giardiasis by eating contaminated prey.

Q: How does giardiasis cause disease in pets?

A: Researchers do not completely understand the exact mechanism through which Giardia causes disease. However, multiple disease-causing pathways are likely involved, such as altering normal intestinal flora, producing toxins, damaging the intestinal lining, and inhibiting normal enzymatic activity, which result in a pet experiencing food maldigestion, nutrient malabsorption, and increased intestinal motility.

Q: What are giardiasis signs in pets?

A: Giardiasis can cause signs such as watery diarrhea, foul-smelling gas, decreased appetite, lethargy, and vomiting. In some cases, an affected pet exhibits no clinical signs but continues to pass infective Giardia cysts into the environment.

Q: How is giardiasis diagnosed in pets?

A: If your pet is experiencing digestive signs, your furry pal may have giardiasis. If The Neighborhood Vet team suspects your pet has contracted this concerning infection, we will perform diagnostic screenings such as the KeyNote Parasite Screen. This is a special giardia PCR test that helps differentiate current infection from previous exposure.  If your pet is otherwise OK, we may start with this basic test and a probiotic instead of performing more expensive diagnostic testing. If your pet has diarrhea, but their giardia test is negative, then we will perform additional diagnostics, such as:

  • Physical examination — Our team thoroughly evaluates your pet from nose to tail, assessing their physical condition.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) — A CBC enables us to assess your pet’s white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This information helps us determine your pet’s hydration status and evaluate their immune system response.
  • Biochemistry profile — A biochemistry profile provides valuable information about your pet’s electrolyte levels and organ health.
  • Parvovirus testing — Depending on your pet’s age and vaccination history, we may recommend parvovirus testing.

Q: How is giardiasis treated in pets?

A: Giardiasis treatment’s goal is to resolve diarrhea and other signs. Giardiasis treatment includes:

  • Medications — To treat giardiasis, our team typically prescribes medication kill the parasites.
  • Diet — We may recommend a bland, easily digestible diet to help resolve your pet’s diarrhea.
  • Probiotics — Various probiotics exist, and we recommend the following options:
    • EnteroTruBenefits
    • Fortiflora
    • Visbiome
  • Bathing — Giardia cysts can accumulate in your pet’s fur, and to remove the parasites, you must bathe your four-legged friend when they are initially diagnosed and on their final treatment day.
  • Clean an infected pet’s environment — Remove and dispose of your pet’s feces promptly, and use household disinfectants to clean the area. In addition, launder their bedding, and steam clean carpets and upholstery where they rest. Giardia is resistant to many cleaning methods, and extreme heat is the only way to completely eliminate the organism.

Q: What is the prognosis for pets who contract giardiasis?

A: With the appropriate treatment, most pets fully recover from giardiasis. Rarely, some pets may eliminate the organisms without treatment.  However, if Giardia cysts aren’t fully removed from your pet’s coat or environment, your four-legged friend can become reinfected. We recommend retesting your pet’s feces for Giardia, especially if their diarrhea doesn’t resolve. 

Q: Can my pet transmit giardiasis to me?

A: Pets can transmit Giardia to people. However, the Giardia  strain that infects pets is different from the strain that typically affects humans. People having the highest giardiasis infection risk include young children and immunocompromised people. If your pet is diagnosed with giardiasis, wear gloves when handling or cleaning up after them, and wash your hands frequently. Also, clean your home thoroughly using appropriate disinfectants.

Q: How can I help prevent my pet from contracting giardiasis?

A: Giardiasis is a common but treatable parasitic infection that affects pets. To safeguard your pet from Giardia infection, follow these tips:

  • Book veterinary wellness visits — Our veterinarian should evaluate your pet at least once a year. During these visits, we can detect conditions before they cause your pet a major health problem. 
  • Provide water — To prevent them from drinking from contaminated sources, ensure your pet always has clean, fresh water available. When on outings, take bottled water and a portable bowl so you can offer your pet clean water, discouraging them from drinking out of natural bodies of water.
  • Limit parasite exposure — Never allow your pet to come in contact with another animal’s fecal material.
  • Prevent small mammal ingestion — Don’t let your pet eat small mammals. They may be infected with Giardia, other diseases, or poisons.
  • Practice good hygiene — Dispose of your pet’s feces properly to keep the environment clean.
  • Isolate your pet — If one household pet is diagnosed with giardiasis, isolate them from other pets in your home to prevent infection spread.

By following these tips, you help safeguard your pet from giardiasis. However, if your pet has diarrhea, contact The Neighborhood Vet team, so we can determine the cause, and devise an appropriate treatment strategy.